Milking And Parlour


Just as it is important not to rush cows up a track, the same is true when collecting cows for milking so that the animals remain content. As on tracks, cows will drift along in a certain order and speed, which is set by the dominant cow. This is often disrupted through cows being rushed and forced into a small waiting area or holding yard. Lower ranking cows are forced among cows of higher dominance, aggression surfaces, animals become stressed and careful foot placement is no longer possible, leading to potential hoof damage. If you can see cow heads raised up over the backs of other cows, there is not enough space available and additional pressure will be put on the feet through cows pushing and not being able to place their feet comfortably.

This is true of any farming system where the animals are herded too quickly into the waiting area to be milked and generally the size of the waiting area and parlour are proportional. In a loose-housed free-stall system, herding animals for milking usually involves bringing the cows through the building along alley ways that are wet and slippery, so extra care should be taken not to rush these animals. Cows often urinate and defecate when collected for milking, especially when stressed, so the alley ways and waiting area should be cleaned between milking if possible. It’s a good idea for the waiting area to be on a slight incline to drain so it is not too wet and slippery. The slope should only be around 3-5 percent, otherwise cows will feel unsafe standing on it or walking up it — a situation made worse if the area is wet and slippery.

Cows should not be brought in too early and should ideally be collected in small groups so that the cows towards the end of a group don’t have to stand too long with extra pressure on their hooves.


If you watch carefully at the parlour waiting area, you will see that subtle changes in position take place as the cows readjust themselves to enter the parlour in a slightly different order. A cow that walked relatively near the back of the group may enter the parlour in the middle or even at the front and needs enough space and time to get through. Adjustments continue as she enters the parlour and other cows replace her. The other cows will not go into the parlour until she has entered and if herded up too tightly, not allowing this cow through, the herd will be forced into the parlour in the wrong order by the milker coming out of the parlour to chase them or by use of a crowding gate. When chased, they are likely to turn quickly away from the stimulus, spinning on their feet and risking damage to the lateral claw on their rear feet in particular. Given time, cows learn to readjust to their milking order and flow in to the parlour naturally, and respond well to a calm, friendly voice, thereby preventing unnecessary damage to their hooves.

The floors of the waiting area and parlour should be hygienic, comfortable to walk and stand on, and have an even, slip-resistant surface without being too abrasive. If concrete is used, a brushed pattern often gives enough grip to make it non-slip. ICS also now common to put a rubber floor covering here to provide some cushioning helping them to walk much more comfortably and safely, as the cows will be standing for some time.

When cows are pushed too much with a crowd gate, squeezed, their heads come up and they are unable to balance or see where to place their feet and on top of this the surface is abrasive on the hooves. This not only causes severe hoof health problems, but stresses the animals and makes them harder to handle in the parlour as they are not relaxed. A crowd gate should be used as a gentle warning to the cows to move forward, and never to push or squeeze them up towards the parlour. A short alarm of a few seconds to warn that the gate will move followed by small incremental movements (1m at a time) is enough to encourage the animals to move.

No need to rush

Sick animals should never be rushed. They are often the last group to be milked when a farmer wants to finish and go home, meaning they may not be given the time they need to walk. Those that are lame especially need extra time and care, as they are in a lot of pain, and should be handled gently. If an animal is in pain you should consider that her comfort zone is probably different to that of a healthy cow; she will experience a higher level of stress if she finds it difficult to avoid the stimulus. For this reason, consider giving lame cows more personal space than normal.

The entrance to the waiting area or parlour should not be dark and narrow, as cows will not enter if they can’t see where they are going. A light, well ventilated space will be much more enticing and promote better cow flow. The parlour exit should be clean, non-slip and have no sharp turns or restricting obstacles. As the cows have just been milked, it’s crucial that they can exit easily so they are not at risk of splashing their udders with manure or slipping over and getting their teats dirty.

Cows should be allowed to rest as soon as possible after milking, often having spent some two hours in the waiting area and parlour, so the quicker these animals are off their feet again the better for hoof health. Past advice has often been to wait for the teat orifice to close before allowing cows to lie down, to prevent bacteria from entering the teat canal after milking. However, this is a lengthy process, so as long as a good teat dip has been used and beds are reasonably clean, it should not be a problem to let these animals rest. Another important need for cows leaving the parlour is water. Free access to clean, fresh water must be provided directly after leaving the parlour, with plenty of space around troughs to prevent competition.

Automatic milking system (AMS)

In this system, cows are not herded up into one large group in a waiting area, but go to the milking robot by choice. This gives rise to fewer hoof conditions caused by the stress of being pushed into one small area and also gives the farmer a lot more time to concentrate on other jobs. It has been well documented that cows are a lot calmer in these systems, probably due to not having huge stresses placed upon them twice or three times a day at milking. Good hoof health is even more vital in this system and needs to be a point of continued concentration when entering into this method of production.

The crucial issue to remember here is that cows need to be able to walk soundly as they are not being collected for milking. If the animals are to go voluntarily to the milking box, they need to be free of pain or they simply won’t go. Although in general lame cows lie less, they will exhibit extended lying bouts along with irregular milking interval patterns. Their milkings may be delayed or they may not go to be milked at all. This can lead to a decrease in milk yield and a higher risk of mastitis, and the animals will ultimately need to be fetched by the farmer — counteracting the reason for buying this machine in the first place.

Any farmer considering investing in an AMS should be aware of the potentially negative fac­tors, meaning that management needs to be as different as the milking system is itself. Animals need to learn new behaviour and adapt to the system, which may initially include long waiting times in front of the AMS. This should only be the case in the early weeks after installation and should settle down once the cows are used to the system. As this can be a trying time. The farmer has to learn to adapt to the new system too: to actively watch the cows and check for disease, to read output from the software system and develop the skills to recognise when something is wrong.

In terms of lameness, the waiting area for the AMS should always be kept clean along with the milking box itself. Every cow being milked has contact with this platform and machine so good hygiene is essential.

The waiting area should be comfortable to stand in, as should the box, and be slip resistant. The exit lane from the box should also be kept clean and slip-resistant so that the freshly milked cows do not splash dirt on their udders and can quickly and easily return to their clean beds. Fresh water should be available right after the cows leave the AMS.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK